Behind the Scenes with Chef Chris

Behind the Scenes with Chef Chris
Aug 05, 2019

Chef Chris Faessen became Wolf Trap’s Executive Chef almost 15 years ago. He started in the food industry as a teenager and his role as Wolf Trap’s chef has been the perfect fit. Each week during the summer, you will find him prepping, marinating, grilling, and much more. Chef Chris’ success depends on his excellent preparations, ability to think ahead, and creativity.

Gathering Ingredients

Platter of green beans.

During the summer season, preparations begin three days in advance for each summer event, and Chef Chris and his team are hard at work by 7:30 AM.

On day one, the proteins to be served arrive from one of several local vendors for Chef Chris to butcher and clean, before marinating overnight. Chef Chris works with his local vendors to get the freshest ingredients for Wolf Trap diners to enjoy. “It’s summertime, so I try to get the local produce,” he explains. The next day, his produce vendor delivers all required vegetables, fruits, and starches to prep for the event. 

Final Preparations

Food prep kicks into high gear the day of the event. Chef Chris finishes all the food needed for the Encore Circle Lounge and then his kitchen team begins the final preparation for the Dinner on the Deck or other special event. It’s “all hands on deck” cooking marinated meats, cutting vegetables, and mashing potatoes!

Three hours before the event’s start is the kitchen staff’s time to breathe. Chef Chris’ team spends this break cleaning the kitchen and setting up the buffets. Things speed up again one hour out from the event. All of the food heats up in the ovens while the kitchen crew does final setup of the buffet. Chef Chris says, “My crew works very fast and hard trying to get everything put together, portioned out, plated up, and ready for the buffet.”

Buffet at a Wolf Trap event.

Delicious Dining All Summer Long

Imagine this sequence of pre-event schedules happening simultaneously and overlapping each other from June to September.

Wolf Trap often has multiple performances in a week and Chef Chris ensures there is appetizing food in the Encore Circle Lounge every night. Multiple events on the Associates Deck in a given week requires extensive buffet prep. All of these call for different menus and preparation. Chef Chris knows Wolf Trap members may attend multiple events and he wants to make sure they get a different food experience every time.

This requires smart menu planning far beyond the beginning of summer. Chef Chris likes to have all his menus created and tested before the summer season starts at Wolf Trap. He wants to ensure the food presented on his buffets will taste just as great as food that’s presented a la carte.

Chef Chris admits he enjoys playing around with food trends, “while keeping in mind I’m feeding 300 people, not just 10.” He goes on, saying, “I need to try to meet everyone’s needs and expectations.”

Chef Chris holds a plate of beef and sides.

The Buzz at Wolf Trap

While the work of summer events and performances looms large, Chef Chris has (lovingly) added another responsibility: beekeeping. His beekeeping sometimes requires up to an extra 30 hours per week during the summer on top of his already busy schedule. Chef Chris sees this work as particularly important because of the connection bees have to agriculture and food.

Chef Chris harvests the honey from the Wolf Trap bees, which is for sale at the Gift Shop. He also goes off-site with an observation hive to help teach local kids about the importance of pollinators and honeybees. While this does add extra hours to his week’s work, he does not regret any of it. He says, “Wolf Trap has given me the opportunity to focus on something other than just my normal day-to-day job, which is fun and challenging.”

Wolf Trap bee hives in the Wolf Trap garden.

Challenges and Rewards

It’s been 15 years since Chef’s first day on the job at Wolf Trap, and each week has presented a different experience, challenge, or triumph. Through all this weekly turmoil, Chef Chris never fails to put together a thoughtful, flavorful, and memorable meal to appeal to Wolf Trap’s patrons.

As much as he enjoys seeing patrons’ reactions to his food, Chef Chris says the best hours he has spent at Wolf Trap were the ones with his family. He loves seeing his sons’ faces light up when they come to a performance. “It’s all focused on them because I love my kids. They’re my world… watching them listening to the music and taking it all in is really cool.”